This site examines the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War international security environment, which faces emerging and constantly evolving threats from state and non-state actors alike. Specific topics discussed include arms control; deterrence; civilian nuclear power; South Asian nuclear strategy and power balance; nuclear terrorism; and the role of the United States in nonproliferation.


Obama's State of the Union Speech

Very quick post, but I'm watching President Obama's first State of the Union address. He has turned to the matter of nuclear weapons, and while his remarks are brief, there's one word that he just used that always gets me:


He says the US and Russia are in the final stages of negotiating the most forward-looking arms control agreement in two decades. Very true. He says that international pressure on countries like North Korea and Iran is what will be required to work towards a world without nuclear weapons and to secure all loose fissile material in the next four years. Also a well-argued position.

But somewhere in those short remarks on nuclear weapons, he slipped that word in:


And while I understand the need for it, I believe he could have implied the same concept without using the actual word. To me, the word "deterrence" slipping out of Obama's mouth is unnatural, abnormal. It's as incongruous as Bush actually saying something correctly ("Is our children learning?").

Obama's speech tonight focused on resetting the mood in Washington, about working together to "get the job done." Part of that reset process, I think, is in consciously and deliberately moving away from the use of certain verbiage. Even if very briefly, uttering the word "deterrence" just to please the folks on the right side of the chamber doesn't justify its use.


Doomsday Clock Pushed Back, or: We're On the Verge

Last Friday, US Undersecretary of State William Burns reported that Russia and the US are "on the verge" of finalizing a new disarmament treaty as a follow-on to the 1991 START treaty. The day before that, however, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists -- those smart fellows who have always been a voice of reason and caution in the nuclear age -- updated their Doomsday Clock, pushing it back one minute. The Clock is now at Six Minutes to Midnight.

Both of these stories are great news, and as a continuation of my last post, they lend both a sense of urgency and one of promise to the year 2010. The pushing back of the Doomsday Clock, in particular, is very encouraging because of the impetus that fueled the Bulletin's decision. In its official statement, the BAS explains:

By shifting the hand back from midnight by only one additional minute, we emphasize how much needs to be accomplished, while at the same time recognizing signs of collaboration ... on nuclear security and on climate stabilization. A key to the new era of cooperation is a change in the U.S. government's orientation toward international affairs brought about in part by the election of Obama. With a more pragmatic, problem-solving approach, not only has Obama initiated new arms reduction talks with Russia, he has started negotiations with Iran to close its nuclear enrichment program, and directed the U.S. government to lead a global effort to secure loose fissile material in four years. He also presided over the U.N. Security Council last September where he supported a fissile material cutoff treaty and encouraged all countries to live up to their disarmament and nonproliferation obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In the meantime, US and Russian delegates are getting ready to meet in Geneva next Monday Jan. 25 to renew START negotiations. The original treaty, which expired in December 2009 and was to be renegotiated last summer, has unfortunately not been renewed yet due to negotiation obstacles between Russia and the United States. In the meantime, however, both Obama and Medvedev have pledged to continue abiding by the guidelines of START, and teams of delegates have been working nonstop to put into writing what Obama and Medvedev agreed to last summer.

With these recent events, and as the United Nations Conference on Disarmament kicks off today, it seems the international community's sincere hope (and one which this writer shares) is that 2010 proves to be a monumental year in making significant progress towards verifiable global disarmament.


Re-examining 2009, or: Will 2010 Be the Year?

It's a week past January 1st, and it has been a while since I last wrote, but the holiday season has certainly taken me away from the keyboard.

I feel it would be appropriate to examine the nuclear-related highlights of the last year. 2009 has been momentous, with a US President truly committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Much has happened, and I'll try to cover all the major developments on the nuclear front. If I leave anything out, please do jump in with a comment and add to the litany.
  • January 20: President Barack Obama is sworn into the White House. In his inaugural speech, he affirms his commitment to "rolling back the nuclear threat."
  • April 4: Just one day before Obama's historic Prague speech, North Korea launches a missile from its Tonghae Launching Ground. Initial reports from DPRK declare it a success, although later analysis from outside North Korea concludes that the test was largely a failure.
  • April 5: While visiting Poland and the Czech Republic to revise plans for a land-based US missile defense system in the region, President Obama makes a compelling case for US leadership in eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide. He says, "As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it."
  • May 25: North Korea successfully conducts an underground nuclear weapon test, which is widely condemned almost immediately by the international community.
  • July 6: Presidents Obama and Medvedev meet in Moscow to discuss replacement of the 1991 START treaty, which is set to expire in December 2009.
  • July 15: The Pelindaba Treaty enters into force, effectively making the entire Southern Hemisphere a nuclear weapons-free zone.
  • August 6: 64th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.
  • August 9: 64th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.
  • September 24: At the annual UN General Assembly this year, the US is given the rotating presidency, which allows President Obama to chair the Security Council session. The outcome of the session is SC1887, in which the SC reaffirms its commitment to nonproliferation and disarmament.
  • September 25: The very next day, at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, President Obama, French President Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister Brown reveal details of Iran's heretofore secret operation in the mountains of Qom, and rally the international community to condemn Tehran's attempts to build an additional nuclear processing plant. In the ensuing fallout, Iran, Russia and the US go back and forth in agreeing to the terms of a deal in which Iran would export its existing uranium supply for enrichment in civilian power plants, and then receive it back.
  • October 9: The Norwegian Nobel Committee announces that President Obama will be awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. In an official statement, the Committee explains that Obama has been awarded the prize in part for his "vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."
  • November 2: North Korea test-launches five short-range missiles, perhaps again to demonstrate its strike capabilities.
  • December 10: President Obama is formally awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Norway. In his remarks, President Obama notes that an urgent action item is "to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them."
So with a very important Nuclear Posture Review coming up in March, as well as the every-five-years Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference a couple of months later, along with what we hope is an updated treaty to the expired START I between the US and Russia, 2010 has the potential to really reverse decades of flawed deterrence policies and make significant progress towards Global Zero.

Here's to hoping!